Overnight Defense: Senate sets Friday vote on Iran war authority measure | Trump heads to Japan for G-20 summit | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan
Overnight Defense: Details on Senate's $750B defense bill | Bill rejects Trump plan to skirt budget caps | Backfills money for border wall | Defense chief says more troops could head to Mideast
Happy Thursday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.
THE TOPLINE: The Republican-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee has rejected President Trump's plan to place nearly $100 billion in a war fund in an effort to avoid budget caps, the panel announced Thursday.
But the committee's $750 billion fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), advanced in a 25-2 closed-door vote Wednesday, does support another controversial Trump budget maneuver: backfilling the military construction money that will be used to build a border wall.
"In an increasingly dangerous world, Congress must show strong, decisive leadership to preserve peace through strength and protect freedom-loving Americans," Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in a statement. "This year's National Defense Authorization Act keeps us on the course started last year--continuing implementation of the National Defense Strategy, restoring our combat advantage and supporting our warfighters."
How it shakes out: The $750 billion total is in line the Trump administration's Pentagon budget request for fiscal 2020 but breaks with the administration in how it's allocated.
The administration had requested $164 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. The OCO is not subject to budget caps, and the administration hoped to use the account to raise defense spending without having to reach a deal to raise nondefense spending as well.
But lawmakers in both parties rejected that as a gimmick that doesn't provide the military the budget stability it needs.
As such, the committee's NDAA would authorize $75.9 billion for OCO, according to the summary released Thursday. In the base budget, there would be $642.5 billion for the Pentagon and $23.2 billion for national security programs within the Department of Energy.
What else: The administration also requested $3.6 billion to replace money Trump plans to take from the military construction account as part of his national emergency declaration to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Additionally, the administration requested an extra $3.6 billion for additional construction on the southern border.
The committee's NDAA includes the requested $3.6 billion to replenish the military construction account, according to the summary. But it does not include the additional $3.6 billion for further construction, a senior committee aide said.
Reed, who opposes using military money on the wall, predicted the issue will continue to be a fight as the bill advances to the Senate floor.
"I anticipate there will be continued efforts on the floor to redirect these funds to their authorized uses," Reed said.
Disaster recovery and jets: The bill also includes $3.31 billion for disaster recovery at Navy, Air Force and Army National Guard installations in Nebraska, North Carolina and Florida, the summary says.
The $750 billion would also go toward a slew of hardware, including $10 billion for 94 F-35 fighter jets, 16 more than the administration requested, according to the summary.
The bill would also authorize $948 million for eight F-15X aircraft, or $162 million less than the administration requested, the summary said.
SHANAHAN CONFIRMS US MAY SEND MORE TROOPS TO MIDDLE EAST: Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Thursday acknowledged that the growing tensions with Iran "may involve sending additional troops" to the region.
Shanahan's comments marked the first public confirmation that the Trump administration is considering sending additional U.S. forces to curtail what it claims is "troubling and escalatory indications and warnings" from Iran.
"What we're looking at is: Are there things we can do to enhance force protection in the Middle East? ... It may involve sending additional troops," Shanahan told Pentagon reporters prior to meeting with Vietnam's deputy prime minister and foreign minister.
What the administration has already done: The Pentagon has already deployed a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East.
Shanahan denies reports: News reports emerged this week that Shanahan on Thursday was set to present the White House with a request to deploy 10,000 troops to the Middle East. An earlier report said that the U.S. could send upwards of 120,000 additional troops.
Shanahan denied those reports.
"I got up this morning and read that we were sending 10,000 troops to the Middle East and then I read about, more recently, there's 5,000. ... There is no 10,000 and there is no 5,000. That's not accurate," he said.
A planned briefing: Shanahan added that he and other security officials are "going to give the president an update on the security situation in Iran." He also stressed that any additional military movement would be for deterrence purposes.
"This is not about war. We have a mission there in the Middle East: freedom of navigation, counterterrorism in Syria and Iraq, defeating al Qaeda in Yemen, and the security of Israel and Jordan."
In contact: Shanahan said that he is in regular contact with U.S. Central Command head Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie and will be meeting with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford as well as speaking to head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, on the situation.
The new comments come as Shanahan and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday briefed lawmakers on intelligence detailing recent actions by Iran. The Trump defense chief asserted after the briefings that U.S. efforts to deter Iran in the region have worked.
Shanahan said Thursday that should "things change, then my plan will be to update Congress because they've certainly been very clear to 'keep us current.'"
BACK TO THE SENATE DEFENSE BILL: The Senate Armed Services Committee's defense bill also dealt with several other hot button initiatives, including President Trump's plan to create a Space Force.
The fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), advanced Wednesday, would authorize $72.4 million to create Space Force as a branch of the military under the purview of the Department of the Air Force.
Though the bill would create Space Force, it does make several changes to the administration's proposal in an effort to address concerns about issues such as overhead.
The inclusion of Space Force in the Senate's annual defense policy bill comes as a surprise after a hearing in which members on both sides of the aisle expressed deep skepticism on the need for a new military branch dedicated to space.
But senior committee aides told reporters Thursday that the committee decided to move forward on the proposal after the hearing identified three areas Space Force was seeking to address: acquisition, space as a war fighting domain and consolidating disparate government agencies.
On military sexual assault: The bill also includes numerous reforms to policies surrounding military sexual assault and harassment, including making sexual harassment a stand-alone offense in the military's criminal justice system.
A senior committee aide told reporters the bill asks the Pentagon to launch several studies, including taking "a harder look at alternative systems for preventing sexual assault, what have we done that can work and what can we do going forward."
"We are tackling the issue from every angle we can," the aide added.
The bill includes provisions to help prevent and deal with sexual assault, including new training requirements and rules regarding victim support.
The bill would also mandate the development of a plan to create a Department of Defense-wide data management system to better share and track information on criminal cases.
On the F-35 and Turkey: The Senate's legislation would also block the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey and cut Ankara from its partnership in the program if the NATO ally continues with its plan to buy a Russian missile defense system.
The draft bill would prohibit the sale of the Lockheed Martin-made F-35 Lightning II to Ankara should it buy Russia's S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system.
The bill's language, led by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), dictates that the sale could only move ahead should the Defense secretary and secretary of State confirm that Turkey has not accepted the Russian system and will not buy it in the future.
The bill would also pull Turkey from the list of countries that have jointly built the F-35.
A senior committee aide told reporters on Thursday that the language to prevent the sale is "very strong," and would not allow the administration to bypass the authority should it be signed into law.
KAINE PLANS AMENDMENT TO RESTRICT MILITARY ACTION AGAINST IRAN: Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) is vowing to push a measure aimed at restricting military action against Iran when the Senate's defense policy bill comes to a floor vote.
"I frankly think it would be a colossal disaster if the United States were involved in Iran," Kaine told reporters on a conference call. "I especially believe it would be a disaster if we were to do that with the president's unilateral say-so with no debate in Congress."
The amendment: Kaine's proposed amendment would prevent funding for any military action against Iran except in self-defense or if Congress approves a separate war authorization.
The background: Kaine's effort follows a failed attempt Wednesday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by Democratic Sens. Tom Udall (N.M) and Chris Murphy (Conn.) to get an amendment attached to a Syria policy bill that would have prohibited funding for an unauthorized attack on Iran.
Kaine first attempted to get his amendment added to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) during the Senate Armed Services Committee's closed-door consideration of the bill, he told reporters Thursday.
But he ran into jurisdictional issues because the parliamentarian ruled it was the purview of both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations panels. The Republican chairmen in both committees therefore said it couldn't be taken up in the Armed Services markup, Kaine said.
Kaine then asked for a vote to overrule the chairman and was voted down along party lines, 14-13, he said.
'Not done with this': "That we would not be able to discuss all of these issues about potential war with Iran in the Armed Services Committee, it's like the scene in Dr. Strangelove where the president says no fighting in the war room. Are you kidding, this is exactly the place we should be having this discussion," Kaine said.
"But I'm not done with this," he added. "The jurisdictional objections that can be lodged in a committee do not apply when the bill is on the floor, so when the National Defense [Authorization] Act is on the floor, which could be as early as mid-June, I'm going to revisit the amendment."
Hundreds of amendments are typically filed for the NDAA, but few have gotten votes in recent years because any one senator can object to bringing an amendment up for a vote.
The Democratic attempts to curtail the president's ability to take military action against Iran come as U.S.-Iranian tensions continue to run exceptionally hot.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan will deliver the commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy's commencement ceremony at 10 a.m. at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Md.
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